Optimism continues that Wood Co. can get cracker plant

PARKERSBURG – Wood County remains in the running for a proposed ethane cracker plant; it is just going to take time for the various pieces to fall into place before any decision is made, the secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce said Monday.

Secretary Keith Burdette was the keynote speaker at the weekly meeting of the Parkersburg Rotary Club at the Blennerhassett Hotel.

West Virginia, and particularly Wood County, is being considered for a multibillion-dollar ethane cracker plant. A cracker plant converts ethane, a byproduct from Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas, into the widely used ethylene, a key component for the plastics industry.

Burdette spoke about the huge amount of progress the state has made over the last 20 years that has made West Virginia a much more competitive place to do business by having the state’s finances in order compared to other states. The state’s budget is balanced and the state is able to pay its bills. The state has some of the best cash reserves in the nation. The state has also been cutting back on certain taxes, like the food tax and the business franchise tax.

“West Virginia is better prepared than most states in the country,” Burdette said. “I go across the country everyday telling the story. People are listening and we are winning more battles in business recruitments than we are actually losing.”

The cost of doing business in West Virginia is at historic lows compared nationally as the state’s bond rating has improved dramatically.

According to a number of analysis, West Virginia has been ranked as one of the best places for oil and gas development in the world.

“There are big growth possibilities happening in West Virginia,” Burdette said. “One of the biggest is the potential development of Marcellus and Utica Shale.”

However, drilling and getting the gas out of the ground is not the only focus of the Department of Commerce.

“The focus has been taking the products being extracted from the earth and create some value added opportunities,” Burdette said of infrastructure development and the potential to attract other businesses where the products of the gas can be processed into usable products.

“(The liquids extracted with natural gas include) ethane, butane, propane, pentane and oil … they are in with the gas,” Burdette said. “Those commodities have significant value as well.”

Ethane, when cracked, can become other products, used in many everyday products, such as clothing, carpet and plastics.

“What an incredible opportunity if we can get to the point where we not only extract it in this region, but we produce the feedstock that can drive manufacturing of all sort from plastic bags to carpet,” Burdette said. “It is a huge job potential. Probably some we have not seen in our adult lifetimes.”

Burdette said there were no announcements to make Monday regarding the cracker plant, which would represent a more-than-$3 billion investment.

He acknowledges a lot of rumors have circulated around the community.

“The process has been ongoing,” he said. “This has required huge amounts of patience. A company looking at building an ethane cracker could easily spend $10 million in doing the research on a site and all of the components and still just walk away.”

However, nothing has been decided.

“It is not done until it is done,” Burdette said. “As I have told everyone, this is not a story that will keep.

“As soon as the deal is signed, if one should be signed, we will be falling all over ourselves to make the announcement because it will be the largest single project in the history of the state of West Virginia,” he said. “It will be the largest single construction project in the state. It will be the largest single cash investment of a single project in this state.”

Putting the project in this region of the country would require significant upgrades to infrastructure to accommodate it, resulting in many jobs.

“The good news is we are still very much in this game,” Burdette said. “The important news is we are significantly focused on making this happen.”